Sylvie Boulette

Writing and Research Advisor
Research Interests: Long 19th century American Literature | Settler Capitalism | Migration and Citizenship | Native American and Indigenous Studies | Critical Race Studies | Gender and Sexuality Studies | History of Science | Aesthetics | Psychotropics


As a Writing and Research Advisor, I work with Nell Pach, Benjamin Morgan, Katie Kahal, undergraduate BA thesis writers, and participants in the undergraduate research clusters to plan out research strategies and coordinate virtual writing communities.

My current project reprises questions that my dissertation, “Appetite for Ecstasy: Chronic Dispossession and Biochemical Governance in America, 1870-1920,” leaves unresolved, to varying extents – questions about the performativity of sex, chronic structures of dispossession, biochemical routes of state and settler-capitalist administration, pharmaceutical normativity, and the interferences of psychotropic desire. Keywords for ongoing aesthetic, historical, and critical research include: irritability (as figure of organic excitation and hormonal or neurochemical lability, from Brunonian medicine to scientific studies of chemotropism), delirium (as episode of pathologized intoxication, kinaesthetic deviance or ungovernability, and intensified subjection to state-racist violence), and euphoria (as sense and policed comportment of buoyancy, as symptom or absence thereof, on drugs or not).

“Appetite for Ecstasy” is a study of how appetitive bodies could verge on and converge around the ecstasies of biochemical alteration under American settler-industrial capitalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Its archives set those ecstasies off against urban and borderland locales imagined to belong only precariously to the jurisdictional frame of the United States—the transient atmospheres of New York or San Francisco’s subterranean opium joints (chapter one, “On the Inertia of Appetite: Transient Relations from the Chinatown Opium Scene”), the autonomous movements of indigenous peyote meetings across the expropriative frontiers of federal territorial rule (chapter two, “Moved by Another Life: Allotted Time and Historical Poiesis in the Peyote Craze”), and the nullified time of sensoria consumed by cocaine or drowned in chloral hydrate (chapter three, “Appetite for Nothingness: Pharmaconormativity and the Abandon of Reified Time”). In question throughout is how the settler capitalist imperatives to secure national borders, privatize landownership, and standardize time drove the formation of a split regime of biochemical governance. Or, put differently, how the forces of chronic dispossession came to invest a dispersed infrastructure of clinical knowledge and state power that divided illicit drugs from therapeutic medicines so as to constrict the molecular flux of human bodies along interlocking strata of race, class, sex, and citizenship. Yet, as a critique of that regime, this dissertation also queries how the dispossessed people and populations subjected to biochemical governance could bypass state and extrastate projects of somatic, fantasmatic, and spatiotemporal enclosure. No matter how totalizing the drive to secure the apparent coherence of day-to-day existence amidst the endogenous crises of settler capitalist social reproduction, I argue, the calculated volatility of these projects nonetheless left openings for ecstatic amplifications of experience to warp, decenter, or run out of sync with the common sense of collective and political life’s projected inevitability. Altered states, far from simply escaping or smoothing out the world as it is, carry the potential to assemble scenes of alternate worldmaking at the seams of what should feel seamless.

I’ve lived in Chicago for seven years or so. Before entering the doctoral program here I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating in 2013 with a BA in English. My senior honors thesis, supervised by Tyler Curtain, was titled “‘Annihilating Themselves Before God’: Sinners in Print, Visible Conversion, and Evangelical Affect in the Great Awakening.”


  • “On the Inertia of Appetite: Transient Relations from the Chinatown Opium Scene” – in a special issue of American Quarterly, “Origins of Biopolitics in the Americas,” edited by Kyla Schuller and Greta LaFleur (September 2019)
  • “‘Moved by Another Life’: Allotted Time and Revitality on the Peyote Road” – paper read at NeMLA 2019, as part of “Viscerality in the 20th Century,” a panel organized by Julia Cheng and Mercedes Trigos
  • “‘Law versus Appetite’: from Victimage to Menace in the Tropology of the ‘Cocaine Fiend’” – paper read at ASALH 2017, as part of “Cocaine and the Black Body,” a panel organized by Douglas Flowe



  • Lecturer, Intoxication and Dispossession in Colonialism, Spring 2020 
  • Writing Intern, Philosophical Perspectives II, Winter 2020
  • Writing Intern, Language and the Human, Autumn 2019
  • Course Assistant, Nineteenth-Century Mass Entertainment, Winter 2018
  • Lecturer, Narrating Appetite in the 19th Century, Autumn 2017
  • Course Assistant, The Literature of Disgust, Rabelais to Nausea, Spring 2017
  • Course Assistant, Introduction to Fiction: Narrative, Violence, Justice, Autumn 2016
  • Course Assistant, Shakespeare I: Histories and Comedies, Winter 2016